Courtney Benn Contracting Services flagged over millions owed to the State

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Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Public Works, Vladim Persaud on Wednesday, revealed that he has taken a decision to cease all contracts with Courtney Benn Contracting Services over millions owed to the State and large amounts for outstanding works on several projects.

Persaud made the comment as he appeared before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer for spending done by the then Ministry of Public Infrastructure in 2016.

Committee members raised concerns over a $100 million still to be repaid to the State by the contractor following overpayment of $120 million for preparatory works relating to the upgrading the East Coast Highway between La Bonne Intention to Betterverwagting on the East Coast of Demerara.

Persaud told the PAC that despite writing to the contractor and the Attorney –General’s Chambers several times between 2017 and 2020, no action was taken to repay the monies owed.

The last payment of $10 million was received from the contractor in December 2017. The Permanent Secretary said when he took up the post in 2020, he decided to cease all contracts with regards to Courtney Benn Contracting Services.

The PS said this is not the only case of this occurrence with the contracting firm; he referenced similar situations between 2017 to 2020. Persaud said the ministry has taken a position not to award contracts to contractors who have a large amount of outstanding work and large sums of outstanding money for the state.

His comments in this regard raised eyebrows among PAC members who questioned whether he had the authority to in effect debar contractors. Parliamentarians questioned whether such debarment should be done at the ministry level or by the Public Procurement Commission.

Auditor-General, Deodat Sharma was also called upon to offer some clarity; when none was forthcoming, Persaud was told by PAC to put his efforts on pause until he received clear directions about his authority.

Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira said the process for debarring contractors is laid out in the Public Procurement Act. She said while debarment prevents the contractor from bidding for future projects, she is concerned with failed attempts at restitution over the years 2017 – 2020 where the then Attorney-General, Basil Williams, SC was written to several times about the matter. Teixeira said issues of performance and restitution have to be dealt with in a court of law.

She posited that debarment was not enough and said the State needs to get its money back.

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